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Riverhead eatery, nonprofit strive to help hospitality workers affected by COVID

Jerry Dicecco, owner of the downtown Riverhead restaurant,

Jerry Dicecco, owner of the downtown Riverhead restaurant, Jerry & the Mermaid, with Samantha Morales, from Branches Long Island on Friday. The two have started a campaign to raise $100,000 for hospitality workers who are out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A local Riverhead restaurant is raising money to feed struggling hospitality workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jerry Dicecco Jr., 35, owner of Jerry & the Mermaid on East Main Street in Riverhead, says when the pandemic started last year, the restaurant — which his father, Jerry Dicecco Sr., opened in 1994 — initially dedicated time to helping frontline workers by giving them home-cooked meals.

However, with the hospitality industry having been hit hard by COVID-19 and having to abide by regulations such as the "yellow zone" restrictions Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued last month that curbed certain restaurant operations such as putting caps on people per table, Dicecco decided to focus more on helping an industry close to his heart.

"The hoops that we have to jump through make it so that we can’t employ as many people and we can’t host events…which means the workers are out, and that’s why I’m looking to help the workers. That’s the mission here," Dicecco said.

To complete that mission, Dicecco’s restaurant has partnered with Middle Island-based nonprofit Branches Long Island to create "The Mermaid Project," a fundraiser shooting to raise $100,000 to provide families and individuals struggling in the East End hospitality industry with fresh meals.

Other local business owners have also joined in the effort to help hospitality workers.

Greg Martin, 49, co-owner of Long Ireland Brewery on Pulaski Street, said he believed his business had made it through the worst of the pandemic. However, Martin’s brewery is donating one dollar per pint of its beer sold to The Mermaid Project because Martin feels it’s more important to help the community around him during hard times.

"If our community is not there at the end of this, we’re not going to be here. These people are struggling to eat, they’re struggling to pay their rent…they’re struggling to survive. So for me, giving up a dollar a pint isn’t a big deal. Because if they’re not there, what’s the point?"

Danielle Sweeney, 29, barroom manager for the Montauk Distilling Co. on E. 2nd Street, said the distillery has donated spice rum to Jerry & the Mermaid, of which 20% of the proceeds have gone toward the fundraiser.

A longtime worker in the hospitality business, Sweeney said while the distillery has stayed strong during the COVID-19 outbreak, she knew several other businesses that were struggling. For that reason, Sweeney said the distillery was happy to help Dicecco in his efforts.

"It’s very important to support the hospitality business. For some people, this is all they have. Families are suffering because of it, and it’s very sad what they’re going through. I don’t even think people realize how much the pandemic has affected the hospitality industry," Sweeney said. "Everyone in this time wants to help everybody, and it’s really nice to see the people that are willing to help. Jerry is doing an amazing thing, and I think he’s really going to be able to help a lot of people."

What the project aims to do

  • The goal of The Mermaid Project is to raise $100,000 to feed up to 500 local out-of-work families in the hospitality business with fresh food cooked at Jerry and the Mermaid.
  • So far, The Mermaid Project has raised $40,000 and has received more than 100 applications from those struggling in the hospitality business, according to Samantha Morales, founder of Branches Long Island.
  • More information on how to donate and get involved with the project can be found online at www.TheMermaidProject.org, as well as Jerry and the Mermaid's Facebook page.

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